Behind doors, beneath beds, between shadows and beyond imagination. Childhood monsters of every essence have been responsible for countless eruptions of cold sweat, cascades of spinal tremors, maelstroms of nausea and interminable fogs of relentless doubt. Though only the righteous act of someone flooding the room with light could dispel those foul beings just scant moments before they reached me from deep within the oppressive depths of night, it was inevitable that one day I'd commit a fatal blunder and skew the precarious equilibrium towards a grisly demise. Unfortunately, one demon in particular had long ago already conjured a physical form and took perverted delight in ravaging my fragile psyche; with the limited resources of a young tot, there was only so much I could do to deter its abhorrent advances into my innocent world. That fateful day many years ago would have steered me onto a much different course had I read more Sun Tzu and less Dr. Seuss, however...
...in 1983, the weekend had begun as most normally do: cartoons at dawn, followed by copious amounts of sugar-laden cereal then feverish rounds of games and toys until the next meal. It was after exhausting many LEGO-and-Hot Wheel re-enacted fantasies that my brother and I decided to become ninjas by leaping off a windowsill onto the bed which, wisely enough for our sake, was unoccupied at the time. We took turns climbing up to the vertigo-inducing altitude of a raised piano bench, coolly gauging the impressive chasm in front of us that would easily swallow the 12-volume encyclopedia set then ask for seconds, before launching into the air with such majestic grace as to incur the deepest of jealousies in every toad we had ever caught the rain gutter spout. The brave warriors who repeatedly dared to face this daunting challenge celebrated each springy touchdown with much glee and increasingly reckless enthusiasm for the next Olympian hurdle; every success meant another chance to raise the stakes by overall distance and rebound height. Confidence gave way to arrogance, and any consequence became a withered afterthought in favor of immediate gratification. Nothing short of the unthinkable could ruin this fun...
...until I looked in horror at the wall. Staring back was a sight that chilled me to the bone: a portal to the very bowels of Hell itself. In my wild abandon I had accidentally knocked an orange-sized hole in the thin plaster next to the bed. Thus, the inhuman nightmare that lurked in those recesses amidst each sun-filled room could simply crawl forth and gorge itself on me during the night, as there would be no warning signs while sleeping in close proximity to its ingress. My brother noticed it too and expressed his concern with what would happen when our parents found the physical damage, but I was simply paralyzed with fear as an endlessly recurring thought raced through my brain:
THAT F@#%ING MUTANT SPIDER IN THE WALLS IS GOING TO GET ME.
This arachnid of Satan didn't terrorize anyone else and since nobody would believe me, this time I was on my own. Sunset was rapidly approaching and I frantically tried to figure out a plan. I knew that most spiders weren't afraid of light but this one in the walls was different - it only came out at night after the sun went down and moved twice as fast as the others. It also spit poison, could fly and had x-ray vision. Then to top it all off, the thing was invisible. This spider had no known weaknesses but it was impossible for me to give up without a fight. I quickly ran short of ideas how to stave off the creature until it occurred to me that I needed a way to block the eight-legged spawn of evil from entering somehow. My mission to achieve this turned into the ultimate scavenger hunt for a piece of paper and four strips of tape which I would use to cover the hole. Not being satisfied with my efforts, I also drew a bright yellow smiley face on both sides of the paper knowing that bad stuff never came near anything that was happy. Crayon drawings were commonplace in the household, but this one was special: it warded off lightning-quick, poison-spewing, invisible flying spiders. Leonardo da Vinci wishes he were as awesome as me right now, I thought.
In retrospect, it makes sense how I chose to study art. While the monsters of yore have changed in relation to my evolving anxieties, the process of creating pictures continue to have a therapeutic effect on me.
But I still don't like spiders.